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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Great Expectations: Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve

Bluehead with mustard hill coral, Bahamas
Purple sea fan, Bahamas
Admittedly, we came with great expectations.  After all, we had snorkeled on several reefs in the Bahamas and were astonished by their colorful beauty and diversity.  The reefs went on for miles and one could even swim out to them from the beach in many locations.  All the purples, lavenders, brilliant greens, yellow, shades of red and pink, and the electric blues….it was breathtaking!  
Coral, unknown species, Bahamas

Flower coral, Bahamaas
Here in the Caribbean, on the west coast of Guadeloupe in the municipality of Bouillante (which means “boiling” —thermal springs provide energy for a town of the same name) is a place that cruisers refer to as Pigeon Point.  The reason is because the “real” name is “Ilets a’ Goyaves ou de Pigeon.” (I rest my case). Pigeon Point is the location of the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve!  Or should I say, a “formerly protected marine area.” On our nautical charts, on land is simply printed “Parc National” and over the water is printed “Reserve Naturelle.”  
Fairy bassslet with Fragile saucer corals? 

We were very excited to stop here and snorkel for a few days.  After all, it bears the name of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. People in my age group grew up watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” on TV, which ran from 1966 - 1976.  
Foureye butterflyfish and Giant brain coral,

The thrilling world of Jacques Cousteau and sharks, manta rays, colorful jellyfish, giant brain coral and deep sea fish of the most unexpected kind….fish with little lightbulbs suspended out before their eyes, and fish with too many colors to count, fish with enormous underbites and sharp teeth, critters that lie on the bottom camouflaged by sand just waiting to scarf up some unsuspecting fish merrily swimming by.  
In the dinghy

Now, since we are not divers, we knew that we would not be seeing any deep sea fish, hopefully not sharks and most likely not the jellyfish either, so close to land, but we knew what to expect for a variety of corals, fans, and schools of reef fish.
Our dinghy sharing a mooring ball close to snorkeling

We rigged up our dinghy with a little 3 step ladder to hang over the side, attached to hardware on the bow and on the stern.  (The bottom two steps are superfluous since they float to the surface anyhow, and are of no help to me whatsoever, in this instance.)  With that we were ready.  We didn't even need to wear wetsuits here; the water is warmer than in the Bahamas.  
Carl snorkeling

I donned the little neon green inflatable vest which keeps Carl satisfied that his wife won’t sink, nor disappear from his sight.  I quite concur with his thinking on this point). I strapped the little waterproof camera onto my right wrist and off we went. 
Underwater self-portrait

On our first day, we took our dinghy out to the two tiny, unpopulated islands just 1/4 to 1/2 mile off the shore….Grand Ilet and Petit Ilet.  They are quite close together and it is very shallow between them as well as on the windward side. We tied our dinghy onto a mooring ball placed there expressly for the use of divers and snorkelers and in we went. 
Foureye Butterflyfish, Jacques Cousteau Reserve,

Immediately I saw a flounder hunkering down onto the sand, both eyes looking up at me and then with great enthusiasm swam off to find more cool fish and corals.  “Where is the color?” I wondered.  Here was a parrot fish; there an 4 eye angelfish, some wrasse, grunts, snappers, but there were no schools of fish.  And again, where was all the color?  Below water was oddly monochromatic…..just shades of green.  No lavender, nor pinks, certainly no purple fans.  The brain coral appeared sickly, and there were stubs remaining of the stag corals.  
A type of Trunkfish? Jacques Cousteau Reserve,

Carl and I popped our heads up out of the water and consulted in what felt like conspiratorial tones, “It’s all dead!” we voiced at the same time.  We looked around at all the other snorkelers.  Did they realize that this wasn’t what reefs were supposed to look like?  Did they know all the coral was dead?  The people diving were on the opposite side of the island where the land descended into a deep pit.  Maybe they were seeing more life down there? We don’t know.  We had no divers in our group.

Unnamed species; let's call her Dottie.
Jacque Cousteau Reserve, Guadeloupe
The next day, we went by ourselves to a mooring ball that was placed close to the cliff face of the mainland.  There were some living corals there, and fans and sponges and fish, of course. I did see a long brown and white spotted snake/eel which was a new find for me (the jury is out on what it was) and all in all, it was at least 50% better, maybe just 30% better snorkeling than the day before.
Unnamed snake species; we'll call him Spot.
Jacque Cousteau Reserve, Guadeloupe

We wanted to give snorkeling another try before moving on. We swam from the back of our boat toward shore.  The word was that there were turtles near shore—that a snorkeler could spy a turtle coming up for air and then follow it to wherever it was munching on turtle grass below.  Unfortunately, the only way we would have spied a turtle would have been if we’d accidentally bumped into one. Visibility was terrible.  The water become increasingly turbid as we snorkeled until we finally gave up.
Unnamed snake/eel species; perhaps Lilith?
Jacque Cousteau Reserve, Guadeloupe

So sad.  We were so sad to see what remains of the reefs of the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve. Perhaps the diving reveals more living coral, but the point remains that so much is gone, forever, I suppose.  Monsieur Cousteau died in 1997. He would have been so devastated, n’est-ce pas?
A few species of coral, not very robust in appearance. 
Jacque Cousteau Reserve, Guadeloupe

1 comment:

Deb said...

Your snake looks like a golden sand eel.

Where was your best snorkeling in the Bahamas?

SV Kintala